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Cebu

Baliw-Baliw Festival

Baliw-Baliw Festival is a cultural and religious festival held in San Vicente, Olango Island, Lapu-lapu City, Cebu, Philippines every May. As a religious fest, it is held in honor of St. Vincent who is the patron saint of the village.

Etymology

Baliw-Baliw Festival comes from baliw, which means turning crazy or mad, and baliw-baliw is to act like being crazed or mad. The above translation however is thought to be incomplete. Baliw is more accurately an act that is considered contrary to what is expected, a taboo, and whose public performance is going to “risk punishment” by a divine power.

History of Baliw-Baliw Festival

The origin of the baliw-baliw custom is not known. A few accounts placed its beginnings in the 1700s, the 1900s, or before the Sinulog tradition. Previously, it was called sakay-sakay (to ride) as the celebration was through a procession conducted in the sea.

In the recent past, the practice was disavowed by priests assigned to the locality. That led people to refrain from joining the revelry and the custom became muted. Its resurgence was credited to a visit paid by National Artist Ramon Obusan in the 1990s who exhorted the local population to re-stage the custom.

Its schedule is also considered significant for its pagan origin. Instead of holding the fiesta of St. Vincent Ferrer in April, it is held on the day of the “highest noontime tide.”

Baliw-Baliw Festival Activities

A holy mass is celebrated on the day of the fiesta at the St. Vincent Ferrer chapel. A fluvial procession is held from Santa Rosa to San Vicente at noon time, at its vanguard is is the water vessel that carries the image of the patron followed by boats of the devotees.

The image is brought to a carriage held aloft by men dressed in women’s garments and make-up. As the image passes through the street, devotees shout “Viva”.

Previous editions of the fest saw animal fights involving cats, kittens, and roosters. In an interesting twist to the traditional cockfight, a kitten is pitted against a male chicken. Other sources mentioned the slaughter of animal as a form of sacrifice.

Such custom is thought to originate from a disaster that occurred in the past where carcasses of animals were seen floating out in the sea or their dead bodies lying in the beachfront.

The practice proved to be controversial, and the local government stepped in to introduce measures that ensure animal welfare is upheld in all festival activities.

Images, replicas, and representations of human male phallus such as a dildo are also utilized. It is believed that this is a form a fertility rite or as a mode of expressing gratitude for the cure on men who suffered from prostate cancer or kidney disease in the past.

At times, a female participant climbs a coconut tree as a way to represent the petition for the saint to bless the island with abundant harvest.

Another non-conventional way of celebration involves gender-bending practices where males wear women’s fashion, clothing, undergarments, and cosmetics while attending the religious procession.

Moreover, a number of participants offer cow manure as food item available for purchase. The practice grew out of burnt rice (also called scorched rice or crunchy rice) or leftover rice (called locally as bahaw) that signifies abundance and an offering to the patron.

Some people describe the baliw as a humorous display that is done for the sole purpose of entertainment which is keeping with the raucous, festive mood. Other experts stated that the above-mentioned activities are a means for the community to deal with collective trauma brought about by disasters and crises, for individuals to come to terms with personal distress, or for expressing devotion and thanksgiving for favors granted and blessings received.

By re-enacting or performing in participation of a religious event, they hope to establish and nurture a relationship with the saint. An interview with Rev. Fr. Jun Palacio in 2010 said that “it is also one way of reminiscing God’s wrath.”

More importantly, their participation is a unique blend of Catholicism and age-old, pre-Hispanic indigenous customs, culture, and tradition.

Some experts said that the baliw-baliw contains a link to the past particularly the babaylan. A babaylan is a shaman and healer of precolonial communities who can be females or effeminate males. They wielded considerable power and commanded respect for their knowledge of traditional medicine and their role as the medium between the natural world and spiritual realm.

Finally, a widely held belief also illustrates that the failure to mark the feast of St. Vincent Ferrer through baliw is going to invite bad luck, sickness, or disaster to the community for the coming year.

How to reach Olango Island

From Mactan International Airport, travel to Punta Engaño wharf where you can take a pumpboat ride to Olango Island.

References

Baliw-Baliw Festival Summary

NameBaliw-Baliw Festival
CountryPhilippines
DateMay
LocationSan Vicente, Olango Island, Lapulapu City, Cebu
PatronSt. Vincent Ferrer
Previous NameSakay-sakay